It’s early April and at the Cradle Mountain National Park at 900m elevation, summer feels like a distant memory.
We’ve travelled here the night before the Endorfun inaugural Dove Lake trail run, as part of the Cradle Mt Film Festival weekend. When we first heard of this run, there was no thinking twice about entering. With Endorfun, we get to run in some incredible places, but none as iconic as the foot of Cradle Mountain. Running bestie Kim and I have travelled together and arrive just before dark. We drive through the Park to try to find the early registration and bib collection, getting totally distracted by chubby wombats grazing by the side of the road. And we’re totally unsuccessful in locating the “Forest Yurt Cinema” venue where bib pickup is supposed to be, so we head back to our accommodation, resigned to get up earlier and collect our bib pre-race tomorrow.
Thanks to a massive faux pas on my behalf (always check what you’re booking), I’ve inadvertently booked the three of us a family sized shoe box at the caravan park, complete with shared facilities (outside) and kitchen. We quickly realise we can’t spend the evening in our room as there is barely standing room between a double bed and set of bunks, so we settle into the communal kitchen to chit chat while waiting for Gabby to arrive from Hobart.
It’s freezing outside – the forecast is for a drop to 2 degrees overnight, but it feels like it’s already there.
Kim and I go outside to greet Gabby in the car park when she arrives. Before we go out, we don puffy jackets over our thermal layers, beanies and contemplate gloves. As we approach Gabby’s car in the darkness, with only our head torches lighting the area, I can see her grinning through the car window. She opens the door and jumps out….wearing only a denim mini and a t-shirt!! “What?” she asks when she notices we’re staring at her, mouths wide open, trying not to shiver. Cue the first of many giggles for the evening…we eventually fall asleep with alarms set for 5am. Race start is only 5 minutes away, but to beat the large numbers of tourists who visit the area, particularly using the Dove Lake track, our scheduled start time is 7am with bib pick up and a bus ride beforehand.
After a fairly uneventful night (only minor disturbances from people using the vending machine outside our room, and what seems like an all-night food prep marathon for a young european backpacking couple in the adjacent kitchen) we are up and raring to go soon after 5am. As always, Gabby and I are kitted out in Runphoria tops complete with our favourite Lululemon Circuit Breaker skirt and Salomon Speedcross trail running shoes. I’ve chosen to wear Linebreak compression socks which are now my staple for long trail runs, and added a thermal top and gloves, to stave off my body’s classic hypothermic reaction to anything resembling cool weather! Gabby freely admitted she had not packed for a 2 degree race start in the mountains, and is wearing considerably less, but at the pace she sets, she doesn’t stay cold for long. Although this run is only 14km, it is unaided so we’re wearing our Salomon hydration vests with soft flasks of water and a gel or two in case we need them.
The run brief is brief as our trail will be clear and well marked tracks (most of it boardwalk), and soon after 7am we are off and running.
I head off at a decent pace for the first time in ages. My fitness level had dropped off significantly with 4 months break from hard workouts since being ‘injured’, but feeling a lot better, and ready to begin again, I decided to push a little harder on this run. We head around the lake in a clockwise direction and the cold hits me immediately. Legs feel frozen and since I haven’t done a warm up run, I’m sucking in oxygen by the litre. I can feel the frigid air filling my lungs, and the effort already feels hard. 10 seconds later, my eyes are running – so much so that I can’t actually see where to place my feet on one of the few rocky sections of track early on. I slow just a little to try to locate my feet on the ground and do the first of many nose wipes for the run.
After 500m the feeling of uber hard effort dissipates as I hit the first of the boardwalk and let loose a little. Running at speed is so much fun – ducking under low trees and sidling by large boulders at the edge of the track. We are in the shadow of Hansons Peak to the east with the sun not quite up, and intermittently pass through areas of dark forest as the age old trees seem to close in around you; before rounding another corner and coming out into the brighter early morning light.
At 2km in we are almost half way round this picturesque lake and I take advantage of a straight section of boardwalk and glance upwards.
I’m dwarfed by the majesty of Cradle Mountain seemingly rising straight up beside the track. The sun has come up on an unusually calm and relatively clear morning and is kissing the top of the peaks.
I slow and am momentarily transfixed by this incredible scene, grappling with my GoPro to capture it (unsuccessfully with very cold fingers). I’m brought back to reality hearing voices and footfalls behind me, remembering I’m in a race so I move on.
The western side of the lake is another 3km of boardwalk with some rocky undulations, and we come across the Ballroom Forest. It’s a sudden change from open air with views to absolute quiet and feeling of complete enclosure by tall myrtle trees, mossy forest floor – all so green, and dark. I draw a breath and take in the earthy smell, making mental notes of all of my surrounds.
The gift of simply being able to run is enhanced by doing so among this beautiful scenery.
At the end of the lake circuit, I spot Val near the historic lakeside boat shed – she’s once again braved the elements (this time, the cold) to take her amazing photos which she shares with events she attends. Her hubby Steve is the oldest competitor in today’s event, and at 69, I can only hope to be running as well as he is when I’m that age! With a smile and a wave for Val (hopefully eyes open in this photo), we turn and head on the track past little Lake Lilla and onto the track that will take us the 8km back to the Ranger Station, the finish line. At this point I’m passed by two very chatty ladies who seem to be cruising very easily. They sound like they’re having a great time and I smile to myself at how infectious the enjoyment of running trails is.
The first couple of kms to Ronny Creek are on/off boardwalk and rocky track, with spiky grasses on the edges, wet in the morning dew. My legs get wet as I brush past them, and I try not to imagine little black leeches hanging on looking for a feed….
After crossing the road at Ronny Creek, we are once again in shade and on quite a slippery boardwalk, despite the wire that’s been installed on it. It almost feels like I’m skating and on a few bends of the track, I have to slow down and take them carefully, thankful for the grippy soles of my Salomons.
The remaining 6kms are all boardwalk both climbing and descending. Some stretches are a few hundred metres in length and the other people I’ve been running close to are visible ahead. Some are moving further away and I’m closing in on some. I still feel my lack of fitness on the uphills and so take them easy/slowly, while letting loose and running free on the downhills, having a hoot taking leaps off the small flights of boardwalk stairs along the way. I do misjudge one of these and lose my footing at the bottom taking an almost tumble. It doesn’t stop me from taking the next flight exactly the same way!
All too soon, we arrive at the Ranger Station to a small group cheering at the finish line. I see Gabby for the first time since we left Cradle Mountain and she’s grinning, placing 2nd female. I’m so happy for her, and so happy that I’ve had my first strong run in months, coming in 5th female.
The Endorfun finish line is relaxed with lots of lovely fruit, water and protein balls to munch on. There’s plenty of cheers for those finishing, but before long, we start to feel the chill that is still very much in the air, and start to dream of the hot breakfast we’ve ordered at Cradle Mt Lodge for race finishers. After a quick change of clothes, we’re backed up to the biggest fire I’ve seen, tucking into egg an bacon rolls, hash browns and good coffee. It’s only 9:30am on a Saturday morning and this race is done and dusted.
Thanks Endorfun – we’ll definitely be back for this one.
Check our fun video recap here…
Thanks for the photos:
- Val Warwick
- Cradle Mountain Film Fest